Anyone can create a good leader (more effectively than most leadership training can)

“Ladies and gentlemen. I am the captain of this flight, and I would like to inform you about our departure.” A wave of sighs and apprehension ripples through the hundreds of people, forming a line, about to board the aircraft. “As the airport of our destination has delays due to bad weather, I have decided to not let you board yet, until traffic control can give us a more precise time window for departure. I am very sorry, I apologize, and in thirty minutes I will come back to you with more information.” He then walked around through the crowd, and checked whether people had additional questions.

I love to see an unexpected example of great leadership in everyday life. With those few lines, the captain:

  • showed he wasn’t afraid to stand in front of a crowd to give a bad message;
  • took responsibility (“I decided not to board yet”), in order to divert potential angry passengers away from his colleagues, towards himself;
  • was clear about what information he did and didn’t have, and when people could expect additional information.

The situation had the potential to become messy. Nobody likes an unexpected, unintended change to their plans. And frustrated, often tired, passengers can get angry quickly if they feel they’re not helped immediately and adequately. But because this KLM captain was brave enough to face the crowd head-on, in a courteous manner, he defused a potential explosive situation, and protected his crew.

Another example.

“I am proud to start as the new director of this great school. My ideal is for parents and teachers to work together, to not only educate, but raise your children in the best way. We all need to responsibly interact with each other, with this goal in mind. That said, I will not accept the way one teacher was trashed last year by several parents in the class whatsapp group. In case you disagree with a teacher, please talk to the teacher directly, or to me. And I also expect every parent to stop a whatsapp thread that’s being disrespectful or downright damaging to anyone. Please, let’s work together to make this school and it’s culture a great environment for your children to grow up in, and look up to for guidance.”

With this, the director:

  • addressed the most important purpose of his job: to educate children attending the school – not only to teach them math and history and grammar, but also to raise them to become responsible and respectful citizens;
  • stood up for his teachers;
  • made clear what he expected of parents, as nowadays parents seem very vocal about their expectations of schools and what they feel they and their children are entitled to – but are sometimes less aware of their own duties playing a part of creating a good school environment.

Both stood up for their people (invoking my immediate admiration), communicated information well, and addressed their audience respectfully, clearly, and adequately.

I’m happy, every time I encounter great leadership like that. For them. For the people they are responsible for. For passengers, or parents, or clients. And for me, because it’s heartwarming to see many real-life examples of great leadership.

Some of you might say: that’s their damned job! Well, yes. They handled it the way any captain and any school director should. But we all have experiences where they didn’t, so we know excellent leadership behaviors aren’t that common. With bad examples we are usually quick to express our disapproval and criticism. So why wouldn’t we equally express our appreciation of good ones?

As HR manager, I’ve seen how important positive feedback is in someone’s development. Positive feedback makes people do more of what they did. It teaches them what behavior works well, in a more effective way than most leadership training can. Once I realized this, I tried to let people know I appreciated them. Not only professionally, but also in the day-to-day examples as above. I let them know why they were great by telling them, or sending an email, or just by giving them a quick thumbs-up. I want them to know someone appreciates them for doing a great job. And hopefully it gives them the encouragement that anyone needs, no matter how good they are, to keep up their good work.

If you want to see more great examples of leadership around you, start giving positive encouragement when you like what someone does. Let them know. Make their day. Be part of improving the level of leadership everywhere around us; one compliment at a time.

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